Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Carmelization: Spin Doctor Zhivago

The initial reaction across the Twitterverse to the Nets' acquisition of Deron Williams is probably best summed up this tweet from Akis Yerocostas (@Aykis16), the associate editor for Sactown Royalty:
Holy. Crap. So Prokhorov is basically a Russian evil genius now right? Gets NY to pay out the nose for Melo, then grabs D-Will, whose better
Or, by Anthony Leshinsky (trexxxN):
@freedarko Prokhorov v. Dolan is beyond riveting; one is playing chess, the other is hammering in crooked nails with a saxophone. #fb

From Mikhail Prokhorov's arrival on these shores in a platinum hoverhelijetskicopter built using ill-gotten KGB technology, he has made clear two goals for his ownership of the New Jersey Nets. First, he intends to win an NBA championship. Soon. Second, he inteneds to tweak Knicks owner Jimmy Dolan. Consistently.

Utilizing ornate in-person presntations featuring noted hip hop performers and (possibly) pint-sized giraffes, he has attempted to woo hooperstars LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony to New Jersey in order to fulfill that first goal. Which would of course also satisfy the second. Despite feelings of front-runner tremendousness at various points in both courtships, LeBron signed a free-agent contract with the Miami Heat and Anthony was traded to Dolan's Knicks after refusing to sign his contract extension if shipped to New Jersey.

A few days before the Anthony trade was consumated, Prokhorov had packed up Jay Z and flew to Los Angeles to hard sell Anthony one last time during the All-Star break. Just as had been the case during his club's run at LBJ, the media was informed of the fruitfulness of the meeting:

“It was a fantastic meeting, trust me," Prokhorov told CNBC. “No words; live music, excellent atmosphere. We looked into each other’s eyes. Just real man talk.".

Just. Real. Man. Talk.

Having failed to convince Anthony to sign a contract extension if traded to Brick City, Proky managed to talk his way into a moral victory with a Tri-State press corps that has been so thoroughly burned by years of Dolan's Draconian media policies that they are ready to throw in their lot (and their columns) with anyone challenging him. Prokhorov dressed up the entire Anthony affair as a success for the Niets, insisting that his organization had “made a very good tactical decision to force (the) Knicks to pay as much as they can."

And, while I'm sure that the Nets front office was aware that pursuing Melo with all of the assets that they had acquired would raise the price for other teams looking to land the 26-year-old scorer, I would find it hard to believe that this was the main objective from day one. Or, did Proky fly to Los Angeles to sit wordlessly between Anthony and Jay-Z for the better part of an hour, just to ensure that Donnie Walsh included both Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari in the Knicks' deal for Anthony? Or was it all a ploy to exile fellow ex-patriot Timofey Mozgov to the Rockies? Perhaps there is some generations old blood feud between the Prokhorov and Mozgov clans dating back to disputed territories in the Crimea that changed hands in the aftermath of the Decembrist Revolt.

Because then I might believe that all the public machinations of the Nets' attempt for Anthony were done with goals other than actually obtaining Anthony.

But until more information about that Prokhorov-Mozgov blood feud comes to light, I'm going to assume that the Nets went after 'Melo, first and foremost, because they wanted 'Melo. Perhaps they wanted his fame as much as his game as they seek to forge a new brand, but they wanted him for themselves all the same because without locking up Anthony through his team's move to Brooklyn, Prokhorov was no closer to that first goal of winning a championship.

Yet, to his credit, Prokhorov did manage to make headway on that second goal despite his failure to land Anthony. Not only did he plant the idea in the fertile back pages that he was more responsible than the Nuggets' front office for the price the Knicks paid to land Anthony, but his staff pulled off a shocking trade for a different All-Star on the day of Anthony's debut at the Garden. The Nets shipped Derrick Favors, a very promising power forward prospect who was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 draft; Devin Harris, an NBA All-Star at the point; and then a 2011 first-round pick to the Utah Jazz for Deron Williams, who is arguably the most talented point guard treading the boards in the entire Association. As a public relations excercise, the Williams trade was an immediate smash hit as the above tweets indicate. Most importantly, it caught the NBA twitterati off guard. After the torturous CAA-driven Melo and LeBron moves it seemed a tsunami of fresh air to have Williams' move come as a surprise.

The Russian knows how to play the back pages in a way that is flat-out Steinbrennerian. He sells his losses like victories and boasts risks into rewards. Nevertheless, it seems like this deal is as much about acquiring the spotlight on the day that Carmelo was introduced, as it is about the future. Because how does shipping Favors, Harris and a first-rounder look when Williams doesn't re-up when his contract runs out after 1+ seasons of losing in an empty building with Brook Lopez as his only running mate? At that point, will today's spike in relevance mean much in that fight for a title or against Dolan?

Despite that fact that both basketball aficionado camps - the efficiency-focused Hollinger disciples and the grizzled old-time bird dogs who trust eyes over algorithms - are in agreement that, in a vacuum, the superlative point guard is better than the high-volume scorer there is enough risk attached to the Nets deal that even the Wilpons would be suspicious if it yielded dividends. The Nets surrendered both players as well as one of the three draft picks that they would have given up for 'Melo for Williams. Which, at first, seems like a steal, but don't forget that they were requiring that Anthony sign an extension before that deal went down. Something that Williams didn't do. Which means that after about 100 regular-season games (and maybe 4-5 first-round playoff games NEXT year), this very talented gentleman can end the lease at his rented Edgewater condo and move on to any club that he chooses. Or even worse for the Nets, he can keep that condo and just take the ferry across the Hudson when he signs with the Knicks as a free agent.

Now, to be clear, I don't think that Williams is coming to New York. I think he's more likely to go home to Dallas or to go west to Los Angeles. But, I do think that he's at least as likely to leave as he is to stay at the end of next year while Carmelo and Amare will be together for several seasons. I also think that Prokhorov is unaware of how anonymous the Nets were before he planted his flag in the swamps of Jersey with another very respected point guard in Jason Kidd (who Williams could very well succeed in Dallas) at the helm. I think that he may have gotten so focused on his secondary goal of upstaging Dolan that he undermined his primary goal of winning a title. Or perhaps, all of this has to do with the aforementioned Prokhorov-Mozgov feud from the old country. Perhaps.

I guess, it's also possible that, as one area columnist decidedly not smitten with his new Russian overlord noted:
"To put it politely, with the possible exception of Sean Williams, the Russian gentleman is as ignorant as anyone we’ve ever encountered that had some connection – big or small – to the NBA."